One of the means which the Egyptian architects used to create this sense of approach is very simple, but perfectly effective. It consisted only in making each hall on a very slightly higher level than the one preceding it, and the sanctuary, which is narrow and mysteriously dark on the highest level of all. Each time one takes an upward step, or walks up a little incline of stone, the body seems to convey to the soul a deeper message of reverence and awe. In no other temple is this sense of approach to the heart of a thing so acute as it is when one walks in Edfu. In no other temple, when the sanctuary is reached, has one such a strong consciousness of being indeed within a sacred heart.
The color of Edfu is a pale and delicate brown, warm in the strong sunshine, but seldom glowing. Its first doorway is extraordinarily high, and is narrow, but very deep, with a roof showing traces of that delicious clear blue-green which is like a thin cry of joy rising up in the solemn temples of Egypt. A small sphinx keeps watch on the right, just where the guardian stands; this guardian, the gift of the past, squat, even fat, with a very perfect face of a determined and handsome man. In the court, upon a pedestal, stands a big bird, and near it is another bird, or rather half of a bird, leaning forward, and very much defaced. And in this great courtyard there are swarms of living birds, twittering in the sunshine. Through the doorway between the towers one sees a glimpse of a native village with the cupolas of a mosque.
I stood and looked at the cupolas for a moment. Then I turned, and forgot for a time the life of the world without - that men, perhaps, were praying beneath those cupolas, or praising the Moslem's God. For when I turned, I felt, as I have said, as if all the worship of the world must be concentrated here. Standing far down the open court, in the full sunshine, I could see into the first hypostyle hall, but beyond only a darkness - a darkness which led me on, in which the further chambers of the house divine were hidden. As I went on slowly, the perfection of the plan of the dead architects was gradually revealed to me, when the darkness gave up its secrets; when I saw not clearly, but dimly, the long way between the columns, the noble columns themselves, the gradual, slight upward slope - graduated by genius; there is no other word - which led to the sanctuary, seen at last as a little darkness, in which all the mystery of worship, and of the silent desires of men, was surely concentrated, and kept by the stone for ever. Even the succession of the darknesses, like shadows growing deeper and deeper, seemed planned by some great artist in the management of light, and so of shadow effects. The perfection of form is in Edfu, impossible to describe, impossible not to feel. The tremendous effect it has - an effect upon the soul - is created by a combination of shapes, of proportions, of different levels, of different heights, by consummate graduation. And these shapes, proportions, different levels, and heights, are seen in dimness. Not that jewelled dimness one loves in Gothic cathedrals, but the heavy dimness of windowless, mighty chambers lighted only by a rebuked daylight ever trying to steal in. One is captured by no ornament, seduced by no lovely colors. Better than any ornament, greater than any radiant glory of color, is this massive austerity. It is like the ultimate in an art. Everything has been tried, every strangeness /bizarrerie/, absurdity, every wild scheme of hues, every preposterous subject - to take an extreme instance, a camel, wearing a top-hat, and lighted up by fire-works, which I saw recently in a picture-gallery of Munich. And at the end a genius paints a portrait of a wrinkled old woman's face, and the world regards and worships. Or all discords have been flung together pell-mell, resolution of them has been deferred perpetually, perhaps even denied altogether, chord of B major has been struck with C major, works have closed upon the leading note or the dominant seventh, symphonies have been composed to be played in the dark, or to be accompanied by a magic-lantern's efforts, operas been produced which are merely carnage and a row - and at the end a genius writes a little song, and the world gives the tribute of its breathless silence and its tears. And it knows that though other things may be done, better things can never be done. For no perfection can exceed any other perfection.
And so in Edfu I feel that this untinted austerity is perfect; that whatever may be done in architecture during future ages of the world, Edfu, while it lasts, will remain a thing supreme - supreme in form and, because of this supremacy, supreme in the spell which it casts upon the soul.
The sanctuary is just a small, beautifully proportioned, inmost chamber, with a black roof, containing a sort of altar of granite, and a great polished granite shrine which no doubt once contained the god Horus. I am glad he is not there now. How far more impressive it is to stand in an empty sanctuary in the house divine of "the Hidden One," whom the nations of the world worship, whether they spread their robes on the sand and turn their faces to Mecca, or beat the tambourine and sing "glory hymns" of salvation, or flagellate themselves in the night before the patron saint of the Passionists, or only gaze at the snow- white plume that floats from the snows of Etna under the rose of dawn, and feel the soul behind Nature. Among the temples of Egypt, Edfu is the house divine of "the Hidden One," the perfect temple of worship.